Reflecting on Inside Out

Yesterday afternoon I went to see Disney•Pixar's newest feature, Inside Out. I've been anticipating this movie's release for the past several weeks, and I was not disappointed. It's an ambitious undertaking to personify human emotions in a movie palatable and entertaining for children and adults alike. But Disney•Pixar didn't stop there. They incorporated several other mental processes into the storyline as well: Abstract thought, Dreaming, and Long-term memory, just to name a few.

Accurately and thoroughly depicting all of these processes and concepts isn't the main purpose of the film. So I'm sure there are neuropsychologists and -scientists out there who can poke holes in some of the finer points of the plot. But, in my opinion, the filmmakers did an incredible job of creating visual representations of these processes in a complex story about a complex subject: the human mind. And WOW, is it visually stunning! Ever wonder what a train of thought looks like? Ever picture different aspects of your personality? Ever imagine how big a storage facility would need to be to contain all of your memories? The human mind is an impressive structure and the Disney•Pixar team illustrates this in clever and interesting ways.

In addition to the intriguing story and impressive visuals, the cast of actors who voiced the emotion characters was well selected. Who embodies Joy better than Amy Poehler, who formerly played perennial optimist Leslie Knope in the TV show Parks and Recreation? Who better to voice Disgust than Mindy Kaling (Kelly Kapoor, the workplace snob) and who better to voice Sadness than Phyllis Smith (Phyllis Lapin/Vance, the workplace sulk) from The Office (U.S. version)? While not as familiar with the male members of the emotion crew, I think they were equally well cast. Fear is played by Bill Hader who I know mainly from voicing the bumbling criminal Mickey in the TV show Bob's Burgers. Anger is voiced by Lewis Black, an actor I am unfamiliar with but who handles Anger quite well.

This movie made me think about how I experience my own emotions and how my emotions sometimes end up controlling my behavior. Like the human characters in the film, I sometimes have emotions behind the control panel, pushing my buttons and causing me to behave in ways that I regret later on. It also made me think about how I am not the only one who has these certain emotions. Everyone around me experiences the same emotions that I do, and their emotions probably influence their behavior in negative ways sometimes as well. That realization alone can help me have greater empathy for those who may act unpleasantly towards me or others.

There were a couple plot points that hit me pretty hard. Like the main (human) character in the film, my family also moved away from my hometown when I was in my preteen years. It was very hard. I didn't even pretend to like it. Once school started I was around complete strangers. I teared up during my speech class once when I gave a brief speech involving my hometown. I was very angry for a long time. And while Anger is perfectly valid and useful, it doesn't always make the best decisions.

Speaking of poor decisions, the worst decision the main (human) character made occurred when her emotions no longer had any influence on her. She became numb and this enabled her to take extreme action. I can relate to this in that I struggle with addiction particularly when I am numb. If I don't feel, then I don't care. And if I don't care, then I do things I wouldn't normally do and that I regret once my emotions are back online.

In my first post about Inside Out I noted the interplay between emotion and behavior. There is a third strand in this story; this strand is called memory. Sound familiar? Probably. These three strands interweave throughout the film and are tied together at the end when we realize the purpose of the most unpopular emotion character: Sadness. As it turns out, Sadness is every bit as important and valuable as the other emotions in the film. And therein lies the lesson. All of our emotions are helpful and worth experiencing, even if they aren't always fun or enjoyable. Emotions color our experiential memories and add greater meaning to our lives.